Ocean City Today

Cold weather surfing needs cold weather gear for safety

Surf Report
By Dave Dalkiewicz | Dec 28, 2017

(Dec. 29, 2017) I think that riding waves in the cold can be considered a definite subset of surfing.

Lots of activities can be like this. Things can easily get categorized and subsetted as in beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Recreational or competitive. Amateur or professional. Shortboard or longboard. Casual or serious.

The cold can present absolutes that must be adhered to just to survive and function, never mind being fulfilled and having fun. It can be more beneficial to have a winter specific board but not necessary. Wetsuits are a different story.

Cold requires thickness as in wetsuit thickness. A 4 mm suit in the torso with 3 mm arms and legs is going to be a minimum with a thicker suit in the 5 mil range warmer and more comfortable. Boots at 3-7 mils, gloves at 3-5+ mils, and a hood at 2-3 mils will complete the desired coverage.

Average winter water temperatures in this area will be in the low 40s with a dip into the 30s not at all unusual. This is seriously cold water. I always remember a television ad from the Department of Natural Resources stating that “cold water kills.”

A human can die in 55-degree water within half an hour with no protective insulation. Hypothermia is the problem. The body loses heat more quickly than it can produce it, thus causing loss of co-ordination and cognition eventually resulting in unconsciousness and possible death.

A wetsuit, simply put, is insulation which will retain the body’s own heat. It’s called a wetsuit because one does become wet when wearing it though only slightly especially with a well-fitting suit. The small amount of water between the skin and the suit will actually aid in the warming process in that the water is a good conductor of the body’s heat with the suit keeping it from escaping.

The air temperatures and wind velocity will be factors as well. Average air temps in the winter will vary from the mid-20s to mid-40s.  Wind chill will be a factor with the “feel like” temperature going lower as the wind blows harder.

Don’t be jaded by the fundraising “penguin swims” this time of year. Yes, they are good for the community and a fun social event, but there’s only a very quick dip in the cold ocean. In and out rapidly, before you even have any idea how cold you are. No wetsuits either.

There’s also no restrictions and no crowds. Kind of a back water paradise that’s exclusive to all of us. Surf anytime, anywhere.

Lots of low tech ideas can be useful too. Arrange to get to a warm spot after the session, park in the sun, change out of the wind, don’t get in your vehicle in a wet, salty wetsuit so as to avoid rust.

Warm that car before driving, bring a couple of bottles of hot water, a large container for wet gear and a few quality towels. Dry the gear well for the next session and do it with at least a little frequency. It’ll make it better all around, more fulfilling, satisfying and

fun. Much more legitimate especially in the long run.

The best part of the entire experience is that it’s so counter intuitive. What nutball wants to get cold and wet in the wind, fully immersed and exerted in a foreign environment? Truth is I’ve had some of my memorable waves in the cold and wind on a January day as the sun went down.

Dave Dalkiewicz is the owner of Ocean Atlantic Surf Shop in Ocean City.

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